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Honoring a Pioneer

Professor, librarian research trailblazing social services work of 1889 alumna

The name Alice Pettee Adams may not be recognizable in America. But in Japan the 1889 graduate was even honored by the country’s emperor. 

The Asian nation remembers Adams for her pioneering social services work. And, as a Bridgewater State librarian and professor discovered on a research trip to Japan, her memory and impact lives on. 

"She’s really an unknown person here on our campus,” said Dr. Minae Savas, a Japanese studies professor. “When we got to Okayama (a Japanese city of more than 700,000), we realized how significant she was.” 

Adams’ work was profound indeed. A few years after graduating from Bridgewater, she traveled as a Christian missionary to Japan, beginning what

A bust of Adams sits on a table.
A bust of Adams.

would become 45 years of service to the country. Committed to helping the poor, Adams turned her home into the country’s first settlement house, a place where staff lived within the community they served and partnered with residents to address social issues.  

Despite financial challenges, she steadfastly supported the poor. The house, which became known as Hakuaikai, eventually included a kindergarten, hospital and day nursery.  

The original Hakuaikai facility was destroyed in World War II. However, Adams’ organization lives on in name and spirit. Today’s Hakuaikai includes modern hospital facilities, a nursing school, a nursing home, and a day care center.  

“The location is different, the function is different, and the needs of society are different,” said Savas, who traveled with Dr. Orson Kingsley, senior librarian and head of Maxwell Library’s Archives and Special Collections. “But it’s true she is the one who really built the foundation.” 

Savas and Kingsley toured Hakuaikai, where they saw a bust and oil painting of Adams and met with staff including the son and daughter of Dr. Yoshio Sarai. Sarai worked with and took over running Hakuaikai from Adams.  

“That was one of the most incredible connections,” Kingsley said. “That direct link was amazing to find out about.” 

Kingsley and Savas decided to research Adams’ historical significance after her great-niece donated a collection of letters and other materials to BSU. 

People standing in front of a grave on a hill.
Savas and Kingsley visit Adams' grave.

During the trip, funded by grants from BSU’s Center for the Advancement of Research and Scholarship, they collaborated with Professor Munehisa Yoshitoshi of Okayama University and scholars from Doshisha Women’s University who are interested in continuing to study Adams. The Okayama newspaper Sanyo Shimbun even wrote an article about their research.

Now back on campus, Kingsley and Savas look forward to sharing their work highlighting an alumna who truly embodies Bridgewater’s motto, “Not to be ministered unto, but to minister.” 

“It’s our responsibility to accurately tell people what she has done and all the contributions in Japan,” said Savas, who sees an opportunity to discuss Adams in her Japanese culture classes. “I think it’s very important for our university identity.” 

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